I wonder, did grandma embroider that DeviantArt watermark on there?
On Saturday I was driving up Ventura Boulevard, sun blazing through my windshield, palm trees towering overhead, cruising past strip malls filled with sushi restaurants and medical marijuana dispensaries, when I had a shocking realization: When I go home tomorrow, I’m kind of going to miss all of this stuff.
I’ve been feeling like a pretty terrible Oregonian recently. It goes beyond my well-documented weather pussification – I now own a jacket that isn’t waterproof, I’ve finally gotten California plates for The Mystery Wagon, and I can’t remember the last time I referred to a freeway using anything other than just a number preceded by the word “the.” And then there’s the issue of what I call “home.”
I’m really sick of all the sentimentality that’s swirled up around the word “home” and transformed it from a versatile noun into fodder for squishy colloquialisms that get embroidered onto pillows and folky songs sung by groups of barefoot, overall-clad hipsters. For as long as I can remember I’ve rolled my eyes when people try to get all poetic about what home “is”, or what it “means.”
My definition of home is a lot more relative. Most of the time when I say the word “home,” I’m referring to wherever I can take my pants off at the end of the day without causing any commotion. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that. “I kind of have to take a dump, but I can wait until we get home.” When I said that on a college band trip the “home” I was referring to was a cramped room at a Holiday Inn Express in Sacramento that I was sharing with three other guys.
In college, Portland was my real home – I went home for Christmas, spring break, summer vacation, and at the end of those trips I was always going back to school. While I might have called whatever totally-not-built-to-code apartment I was living in at the time “home,” it was only home relative to campus and its surrounding bars. Eugene wasn’t my home; it was just a stonery cowtown where I was going to college. I always thought of Portland as my home because it was the place I would rather be – I missed it when I was gone.
Last week, while talking to somebody on the phone, I said this:
“I’m heading home on December 15th, but we should hang out and chop it up when I get home on January 1st!”
1) The phrase chop it up sounds a lot more natural when the drug dealers on The Wire say it, and
2) I have no idea where my home is anymore.
Which is why, I guess, I found myself driving through the aesthetically unappealing, bike-unfriendly suburban LA sprawl that all Portlanders are expected to look down their nose at, the whole time trying to remember every detail in case I got homesick while at home.
Portland is, hands down, the most beautiful city in the world, and even if it wasn’t it would still be filled with lots of people who I love beyond all reason. Every time I come home to Portland it’s a greatest hits album of friends, family, and poor nutritional choice after poor nutritional choice. Portland will always be my home. But I also really love LA, and a whole lot of the people who live there. And in a lot of ways, LA is more of a home to me than Portland is.
For example, I’ve got no idea what’s new on Portland’s art scene and I’m in the dark on local politics. And God help you if you ask me for directions in Portland, because I really don’t know any of the streets or where they are – I mostly just navigate by using bars and restaurants as landmarks.* I’ve been calling LA home for about half as long as I’ve been calling Portland home, but only in one of those cities can I tell you how to find the freeway. (Although to be fair, it’s actually a lot harder not to find a freeway in LA.)
*“Hang a left at the bicycle-themed craft brewery, drive up past the bar that does the fire breathing stripper show on Wednesdays, turn right at the deep fried tofu food cart and then just keep going until you see the other bicycle-themed craft brewery.”
Now I kind of understand why people go to so much trouble trying to quantify what home is, even if the results usually come out sounding quaint and stupid. Honestly, the more I think about it, the most egregious offender – “Home is where the heart is” – actually kind of makes sense in my situation if you think about it in the most literal sense.
My heart, after all, is inside of me – although I bet my high-cholesterol diet makes it wish it wasn’t – so it goes wherever I do. So when I’m in Portland I’m at home, and when I’m in LA I’m also at home. By that same logic I guess you could argue that I was also at home when I lived in a Nevada brothel for two weeks, but I wish you wouldn’t.
Simply put, I don’t really go home anymore; I’m just bouncing between a couple of great places that I love.
Truman Capps is sad to report that he can give pretty accurate directions in Salem.